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Putting a humble man on a pedestal

Becca Saunders | Thursday, September 4, 2003

Rich Mullins is a name that most know and nearly everyone recognizes as familiar. Whether heard in passing conversation, on the radio or at church, the name Rich Mullins is one that is heard all over the country, even all over the world.

Rich Mullins is known for many things, but above all he is known for his work as a contemporary Christian singer and songwriter. In his biography, Rich Mullins, His Life and Legacy: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven, by James Bryan Smith, a long-time friend of Mullins, the life of Rich Mullins is laid out in an honest and sincere narrative. Mullins is known for his immensely popular songs (including “Awesome God,” “The Love of God,” “That Where I Am, There You May Also Be”), but this guide on Mullins’ life aids in viewing the deeper and touching person that Rich Mullins truly was in his entirety.

James Bryan Smith, a good friend whom Rich rented a room and lived with for over two years, is credited for penning this book. Smith’s writing is mediocre at best. The story of Rich Mullins is more than enough to make the novel flow fluidly; the most difficult parts of the novel to get through are Smith’s often excessively long commentaries. Smith makes it clear throughout the book that, above all things, Mullins was a humble man who was the first to proclaim himself a sinner. As such, the persistent reverent and admiring tone that Smith utilizes to describe Mullins is almost inappropriate for the biography. From the true stories of Rich’s life and the many quotations from him throughout the book, it becomes apparent that, in reality, Mullins probably would not have wished for this book to be written about him in such a manner. Above all else, Mullins was humble, and Smith’s style of writing in this biography places Mullins up on a very high pedestal, the very place that Mullins would have likely wished to avoid. That being said, it is important to point out the difficult task it would be to write a book about the life and views of Rich Mullins without him ending up on a pedestal in the reader’s mind by the completion of the biography.

Although the actual writing of the biography is lacking, the book itself is extremely engaging. The book basically tracks the life of Rich Mullins beginning with his childhood in Virginia and Indiana and ending with his death in a tragic car accident in 1997. The novel is biographical, but also is very much a Christian-based reading as it shares many of Mullins’ Christian philosophies and opinions throughout the novel. Rich was ecumenical in the highest sense of the word. While growing up Protestant, he loved going to church. At one time, he almost became Catholic, but decided against it in an attempt to remain truly ecumenical and focus sincerely on Jesus. Mullins was famous for “burning peoples’ sacred cows” when he would perform and various different types of churches.

As a child, Mullins was a bit of an outcast, and after failed attempts at athleticism, he accepted his gift of music. He began performing in churches and for small gatherings and eventually began a band called Zion, of which he was one of the four members. Mullins went through many phases in his life and eventually moved to an Indian reservation in the Southwest where he began a group called the Kid Brothers of St. Frank. This group was based on many of the teachings of St. Francis, whom Mullins was a great admirer of and very interested in. Mullins and the other members of the Kid Brothers dedicated their lives to service and prayer. Throughout the book, Mullins’ life journey is depicted and accompanied by entertaining stories of the truly redemptive life of Rich Mullins. He always felt that he was not worthy of the awesome love that God provided him with, and that he, like everyone else, was a sinner. The beauty of Rich Mullins was that he embraced his sinfulness and then turned and gave it all back to God. He never claimed to have any of the answers; he simply pointed people directly toward God as their answer, remaining, as cliché as it may be, a true “arrow pointing towards heaven.”

This biography does not fit neatly into any one subject matter; it covers so many of the aspects of an ordinary man’s life who did extraordinary things with his God-given talents. The story of Mullins is inspiring even at its lowest points. Mullins was a man, not a myth, and he never hoped or wanted to be known as anything more than simply a man. He had an incredible way of really being able to break down the character of Jesus as human, just as Mullins was and we all are humans. The human aspect of Jesus is one that many people, when they begin to really focus on it, aren’t very comfortable with. This view of Jesus fascinated Mullins, inspiring him and working through him to all of the people he touched through his example and life. Whether people think “Awesome God” is the greatest or the most annoying contemporary Christian song in existence, this book should be read. It is interesting, inspiring and, at times, hilarious. Mullins was many things in his life. Above all else, he was a messenger for a power he never felt worthy to serve, and by living as such, showed many people, and continues to show many people today, the correct way to direct your life: up.

Contact Becca Saunders at bsaunders@nd.edu.